My Dearest Angela,
Yesterday was your 12th birthday...and your first one home with your forever family. How overjoyed I am that this is not another post with you half a world away, struggling to remain hopeful and confident that you and Olesya indeed would one day be with us. There were no tears shed this time, no worries over packages sent months in advance that had not yet arrived, no wishing I was there to give you a hug. This time there were smiles and gleeful laughter, hugs and excitement...there was family.
The night of your real birthday, Thursday evening, we curled up on our bed with laptop in hand and looked at over 600 photos of our lives before becoming family. I say that a bit tongue in cheek as you and I both felt like family all along, but it wasn't official in the eyes of anyone else. But we knew, didn't we?
We sat there, your head on my shoulder and leg draped over mine, Olesya on the other side and Josh eagerly leaning in and we talked, we laughed, we grew quiet as you shared that "My happy birthday at Internat very, very sad...no happy birthday...no mama papa...no brothers...me sad all birthdays...no party." I showed you photos I had received of you getting previous birthday gifts from us and we both laughed at how slow the mail is in Kazakhstan. You told me how much you loved the soccer ball we sent last year, and you thanked me for always sending things to share with your friends so they wouldn't feel left out. Knowing you now, I better understand how important that was for you, and again I promised you we would not forget your friends left behind.
We stayed awake until midnight, all of us walking down memory lane, you learning more about your family and me learning more about your "family" at the orphanage. Your biological mom and dad never came up, but you recalled many antics with your friends, you expressed worry over a couple of the older girls with whom you were close who are aging out soon, and we giggled over goofy brother pictures. Despite the late hour...or who knows, perhaps because of it, we were comfortable and easy with one another, and I marveled privately at coming so far so fast. Daddy could sense what was going on and remained out of the room, recognizing intuitively that it might break the spell we were all under, so we took advantage of the closeness of the moment and ignored the clock, realizing that it is exactly moments like this that build the bonds of family.
Your anticipation leading up to your birthday was so much fun to see! You wanted party hats that most kids your age would have turned their noses up at, and Matthew made your cake for you as we explained about the Roehrman-LaJoy tradition of toothpicks in the middle, which you thought was so funny. We all cleaned and decorated and everyone teased you as we left you alone while we all wrapped presents for you and signed cards. I don't think the grin left your face all day.
As your new friends and our old ones arrived, you were so happy! You were surrounded by love, and for the first time it was your very special day. I did fine with it all except for one brief moment when explaining to a couple of friends standing next to me that this was your very first celebrated birthday, and as I stood there watching you open your gifts as your brothers and sister looked over your shoulder, I said "We have missed so much..." and tried hard not to cry. I don't usually dwell on the time lost pre-adoption, preferring instead to focus on what we have before us, but this one caught me off guard. We HAVE missed so much and I wonder if I felt that more pointedly because we tried so hard for so long to get you and Olesya home and we missed so much in that process that potentially didn't have to be missed.
But as happens, the moment passed and we moved on. You were so filled with gratitude for every single thing you received, and you were very polite and remembered to thank everyone. You have some talented new friends who made you a pillow, created beautiful artwork for you, and generally spoiled you rotten as you so deserved. You will take one step towards young womanhood that at least we won't have missed when, thanks to Grandma Alice, you will get your ears pierced, and you can wear the beautiful earrings she sent. Our gift to you was a softball glove and bat, along with your trip to the zoo, of course. Perhaps the biggest laughs came with the enormous bottle of ketchup that I am sure will be devoured in less than a week! Haha!
As friends trickled away and the night died down, we all piled into our bedroom with blankets and pillows to have a slumber party, as none of us was really ready for the evening to be over with despite how tired we all were. You insisted in sleeping on the coveted spot next to my side of the bed, saying it was your birthday and you should get to sleep there, which everyone agreed to. And there you were, your long legs propped up over the side of the bed as I gently rubbed your feet and you talked about what a wonderful day you had. "Thank you mama, thank you papa, this happy happy birthday good good birthday!! Thank you for family LaJoy!".
We love you so much Angela, all of us. I can't promise you that life won't again be hard, that you might not one day be scared or have challenges that are hard to overcome. I can promise you that you won't be alone ever again, that family LaJoy will always be there for you to count on.
And I want to thank you so much for bringing such joy into our lives. Thanks for taking a chance on love when you had no reason to trust that it would not betray you again. Thank you for your patience and effort as we all transition as a family and learn from one another. Thank you for your honesty, your helpful spirit, your kindness. I have given you all I have had to give for years, and I can see you too are giving us all you have as well. I am so grateful for you and Olesya, so very happy that this year you are home, safe and loved. I give thanks to God that we are all together finally, and pray we have many, many more happy birthdays together.
Watching you grow up will be one of the 5 most amazing things I have ever had the pleasure of doing.
Thank you for letting me be your Mom, not just in name, but in every way. I know it was hard. It has been hard for me to get to this stage too. It was all worth it, wasn't it?
Love you always and forever,
We played a game at the party and Kenny along with one of our guests was a great sport. His head was slathered in whipped cream, and then everyone threw Cheetos at them, The team with the most Cheetos that stuck to their target's head won! You can see the end result below:
Happy 12th Birthday Angela LaJoy!!!
You are loved.